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CLDP: what it is really like

  • Published
  • By Ciara M. Travis
  • 492d Special Operations Wing

If someone had mentioned that during the first off-site experience, I would be in tears and hugging a wooden zipline pole about 100 feet in the air as I could feel it sway from side-to-side – you certainly couldn’t have convinced me to sign up. However, there I was gliding through the trees and over the streams.

And if I had known before applying that I would be standing in a room before my peers, mentors, and leaders – presenting ideas and proposing solutions for fairly complex issues, I’m not sure you could’ve convinced me to sign up. But again, there I was – in front of everybody, dressed in my best, giving my all.

The Air Force Special Operations Command Civilian Leadership Development Program took me out of my comfort zone in more ways than I can imagine.

When I was first selected to be a part of the AFSOC CLDP, I cringed in fear as I saw the selectee list. If I wasn’t the lowest ranking person selected as a GS-11, I was close. In addition to that, I had the least amount of professional experience.

The program, spanning 12 months, typically has immersions of each AFSOC directorate, professional development, team-building exercises, and a few off-site immersions that broaden the scope and perspective of the 12 individuals selected. In addition to all of these unique opportunities, the selectees are divided into three groups and tasked with developing a presentation that gets after civilian leadership and development within the command and with the intent to brief the AFSOC Executive Director, as well as a group of esteemed panel members.

While it didn’t quite happen as planned due to a global pandemic, the peer fellowship,  senior leader mentorship, and personal professional development alone made the program (albeit condensed) worth it.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, much of the second half of the 2019-2020 iteration was largely impossible. Despite these unforeseen circumstances, my CLDP teammates seized the networking opportunity and we bonded the very first week.

How does one go about bonding with strangers from different fields, and varying levels of experience? Tacos.

During those first few engagements, we found ourselves meeting over food, mostly tacos, after the duty day was over and eventually, these “peers” turned into friends. I witnessed a few situations where these new connections helped professionally in situations that would’ve otherwise required a much longer “goose chase” and by the end of the program, our teammates were figuring out how they could cheer up an ill member by putting together a care package from afar.

And while the friendships were certainly the icing on the cake, another great takeaway were the tools that I’ll continue to carry in my toolbox as I develop as a leader.

“Tools?” you may ask.

You heard that right.

Tool. /to͞ol/

noun. plural noun: tools

  1. An object used to extend the ability of an individual to modify features of the surrounding environment.

During our first day in the program, Mr. Donald Plater, the Air Force Special Operations Command Executive Director, planted a seed with one of his favorite quotes that he personally carried in his leadership tool box.

“I’m only as good as I was yesterday,” said Mr. Plater. “What am I doing today to be better tomorrow?”

I left that day reflecting on how my daily actions, over time, are adding up. I begin asking myself, “Have I plateaued? What am I doing to be better?” While I couldn’t answer those questions immediately – I began to take an inner look at myself and take a personal assessment, if you will.

After the first week of diving into immersions of each of the MAJCOM directorates and notes that filled pages and pages of my journal – there were a few nonattributable quotes that I was able to add to the previously mentioned toolbox.

             - Reflect – take the time to see if you did what you “set out” to do.

             - Experience, relationships and credibility matters.

- Keep a journal. It’ll help you see who and what has made a positive or negative experience in your life that you may not see.

             - Understand that your actions are impacting different people every day.

             - You manage things, but lead people.

- Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. You must be a part of the change.

- You’re a combination of the 11 people you spend the most time with. Choose your inner circle wisely.

- Understand the “why” of what you’re doing. When you know the why, you’ll work more effectively.

             - Do what you say you’ll do – or don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

             - What a person sees is their reality.

             - Stay in your lane and if you’re not the subject matter expert, it’s okay to say that and find who is.

 In regard to CLDP, while there are rank requirements to get into this specific program, I truly hope that we as a force can implement these important concepts early in the civilian developmental path – for it is the early years of any career path that set foundation for the entire career. If you were to ask me now if I'd apply knowing about the ziplining and standing 100 feet off the ground, my answer would be absolutely. Even through the tears and overcoming my fears, the growth and friendships I gained from this program will last a lifetime.